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Face it, most Americans (and probably not just Americans) only think of Borat when Kazakhstan gets brought up. Whether that’s testament to Sascha Baron Cohen’s comedic prowess or a telling sign of our international ignorance, I’ll leave for someone else to decide.
But now, eight years after the film, Kazakhstan is striving to redefine itself to the outside world. Almaty, the country’s largest city, is one of three finalists for the 2022 Winter Olympics (1 of 2 if you believe Oslo is likely to drop out). Long-time president Nursultan Nazarbayev unveiled two years ago a plan bent on boosting Kazakhstan onto the list of the world’s top 30 most developed countries by 2050. Finally, the nation’s energy-focused deal-making has positioned itself as a bridge between Russian and American interests in Central Asia.
What’s the Big Idea?
Dina Gusovsky of CNBC has penned an illuminating report on the oil-rich former Soviet republic and the ways in which it has attracted investment from both Russia and the United States. Kazakhstan signed on to Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union this year while at the same time easing restrictions for potential American partners to enter into the picture.
From Gusovsky’s piece:
The Kazakhs “are making themselves the middlemen and creating a bridge between Russia and the U.S.”, said Edward Mermelstein, an attorney who works as an adviser on cross-border investments in the former Soviet Union. “In a sense, becoming the Switzerland of the former Soviet Union.”
Gusovksy notes that similar violence to that which occurred earlier this year in Ukraine could pop up in the future if tensions with Russia were to flare up. This presents the most glaring risk to Kazakhstan’s budding and ambitious plan for growth. Recent allegations of human rights violations could also prove a sticky subject to dance around, though that sort of thing tends not to derail massive investment in countries like China.
Kazakhstan appears to be one of the top nations to watch in the coming decades. Whether it will still be called Kazakhstan then is still to be determined.
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